Imagine if you could make one simple change that would make solar power more affordable AND scalable.
What if this change gave you the ability to slash more energy bills, get paid more by utility companies, and battle climate change that much more?
Or even better:
What if you had 15 of these actionable high output solar panel ideas…
…And each of them generated more for your (and Earth’s) bottom line?
Luckily, that’s exactly what you’ll find today’s post:
15 incredibly practical solar panel output strategies that you can use to get the most value from your solar panels & accelerate solar energy use TODAY.
1. Use an MPPT Controller to Improve Watt Generation by 10-15%
Do you know what your wattage conversion rate is?
Well according to Collyn Rivers, the actual solar output produced is aroud 70%.
On the other hand, with a Multiple Power Point Tracking (MPPT) solar regulator you can boost it up to 80-85% depending your set up.
First, I need to give a quick explanation:
Most PV panel systems and batteries are actually not very compatable.
PV panel and battery specs are nominal, meaning the battery and solar cells are not always on the same page of how much current vs. voltage to produce.
And this leads to SERIOUS inefficiency in total watts produced.
In reality: A “12 volt” panel usually produces closer to 16-18 volts…
And a “12 volt battery” is more accurate nominally at 10.5-12.7 volts.
So the result is a bunch of excess voltage that goes to waste.
What a MPPT controller does is convert that excess voltage into current – which still produces the same amount of wattage if you consider the following:
(It also prevents your battery from getting fried)
In other words, current and voltage can be substitutes for one another.
Let’s say you have a panel that produces 7.5 amps and 17.3 volts…
…Which equals 130 watts.
But here’s the kicker:
Your panel generates 130 watts ONLY under the assumption that it will operate at 7.5 amps and 17.3 volts.
So when you add (let’s say) a 12-volt battery to the equation – there is a mismatch between your panel’s voltage and your battery’s voltage.
A 12 volt battery only takes in 12 of the 17.3 volts the panel is producing, meaning you waste 5.3 volts.
40 less watts.
That’s 31% less power than the 130 watts the panel is capable of producing.
Instead of losing those excess 5.3 volts, you can turn them into current with an MPPT controller.
Simple yet effective.
Not only is an MPPT a way less expensive alternative to buying a different battery, but also increases efficiency for other reasons too.
Here’s what to do:
Step 1: Determine Your Panel Wattage
First you need to know how many watts your panel is capable of producing.
Write this number down on a piece of paper.
This will give you half of the information you need to select the right controller.
Step 2: Determine Battery Bank Voltage
Second, you check your battery to determine how many watts it produces.
Write this number down on the same piece of piece of paper from step 1.
Now you’ll have all the information you need to plug your numbers into the equation I’ve outlined in step 3.
Step 3: Divide wattage by battery voltage to get your MINIMUM AMP RATING
Take the piece of paper you wrote down the numbers on from steps 1 and 2 and plug them into the following equation on a calculator:
This will give you your “Minimum Amp Rating” (MAR) you need to properly select a controller.
For my example above I had 130 watts and 12 volts…
…So I’d take 130 ÷ 12 to get a 10.8 Minimum Amp Rating
Step 4: Search for that Amp Controller on Google
Just go to your computer and head to Google.
Most controllers are made by 10’s of amps (10 amp controller, 20 amp controller, etc).
Pick the controller that rounds up from the minimum amp rating you identified in step three.
(i.e.If my minimum amp rating above was 10.8 amps I’d want to buy a controller in the 10-20 range).
Now that you know your specifications you’re all set to find your dream MPPT controller.
2. “Reflectionize” Your Building to Improve Your Insulation by Up to 90%.
Insulation is probably the #1 issue that is preventing your solar panels from reaching their full potential.
According to the Department of Energy, heating and cooling is responsible for about 54% of your energy bill.
In addition, Green Home Gnome reports insulation can reduce the cost of heating and cooling by over 40%
And, this post from The Green Age shows you exactly where you need to fix it:
Without better insulation you’re letting the energy that your panel is generating escape in MASSIVE quantities.
There’s a TON you can do to improve a building’s insulation…
…But for now, follow these simple steps and you should have most of the bases covered.
First, decorate your interior attac with mineral wool.
As the picture above shows, 25% of your heat escapes through your roof.
There are many environmentally friendly options, but mineral wool is probably the most cost effective of them all.
You can install mineral wool yourself relatively easily, or you can hire an installer to do it.
Second, Set Up Radiant Barriers in your attic.
Now, you’ll want to add another layer of reflection by covering up the mineral wool.
The solution is to use insulation aluminim to set up “Radiant Barriers” on your top floor or attic:
Image Source: Andrew Robbert
Image source: NC Solar Now
1) Buy Insulation aluminum that you can use to reflect heat back into your home.
Just Google it or head to Amazon and you should be able to find what you’re looking for.
You do have to pay shipping prices if you buy via the internet, though.
You can always shop online for options then go to a local distributor if shipping and handling costs are an issue.
2) Hire a local certified professional to install the insulation aluminum.
You can obviously always DIY…
But here’s my opinion about installation:
When the Department of Energy starts throwing around words like “safety precautions” and “fire codes”, I’d much rather leave it to the pros.
I don’t want you to get hurt! 🙂
Third, Insulate your Walls (If Applicable)
35% of heat loss occurs though your walls.
You first need to determine which kind of walls your building has.
These are the two types:
- Cavity Walls (most properties built after the 1930’s).2. Solid Walls (most properties built before the 1930’s)
If you have cavity walls, you’re in luck because insulating those walls is VERY simple…
…Solid walls, not so much.
All you really have to do is inject insulation IN THE CAVITY of the wall – kind of like filling in a cavity at the dentist.
This is something you should also hire someone to do.
Fourth, fortify your your windows and doors
You can seal in the juices even more effectively by covering the more obvious escape routes: Doors and Windows.
I personally use “storm windows” to prevent leaks from occurring because my house is old, but there are tons of other options as well.
Storm windows are basically just another layer of glass that fits in your current window pane.
They’re an old school technique that people used decades ago.
But they’re still super effective.
This way heat and AC have to weave through TWO layers of glass in order to escape.
(It also doesn’t hurt to cover them with curtains or blinds too).
Fifth, add the finishing touches by sealing all the cracks.
All you need to do is find some caulk or weather stripping and apply it to wherever there are gaps in your walls.
For example, you might have window crank shafts that allow air into and out of your home.
Check out what I do in my own home for my window panels:
Also make sure you cover the gaps under your doors.
I’ve found you can get some pretty cool foam objects that not only save energy, but add a sweet style element as well.
3. Create Separation Between Your Surface And Panel to Allow Better Heat Ventilation & Cooling of Panels.
An increase in a solar panel’s temperature will decease its performance and hurt its efficiency.
And, like any form of energy, light energy is not 100% efficient.
Thermal inefficiency is created as a byproduct of solar panels turning sunlight into the mechanical energy.
Now there are two ways to go about this:
One, you can install an ugly fan:
Image source: Home Depot
Two, you can create separation between your panel and the surface it’s resting on (like your roof).
This way, you don’t have to sacrifice efficiency for aesthetics.
I do think future solar panel technology will better address this area (like Tesla’s new releases, for example).
But for now, follow this three step formula to raise your current solar panel set up:
1. Determine how your solar panel is mounted
Because solar panel set ups are all different, you will need to adjust your strategy according to a few considerations.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- the orientation of the panel (tilted vs. flat)
- the place of installment (your roof, your yard, etc)
- the adjustability of your current mount
- How many panels you currently have
- Increase in load
Once you’ve figured out some of the considerations above, move on to step #2:
2. Install An Adjustable Solar Panel Mount (If you don’t have one already)
Now I should warn you:
However you go about it, mounting your solar panels can take some labor and DIY’ing can be dangerous.
(For the sake of not getting fined, I must recommend you hire professional installers 🙂 )
But if you’re into green living for the long haul, you won’t regret it.
You can find an inexpensive frame built from a series of aluminum pipes/profiles/etc.
Aluminum is good because it is strong enough to support the extra load from the modifications, but also relatively inexpensive as well.
3. Adjust Extension At Least 6 inches
Industry experts recommend your panel be raised 6 inches if you want to significantly boost ventilation the of your solar panels.
First, you’ll need to unscrew the bolt so that the panel can be adjusted.
Second, you need to slide the panel up at least 6 inches.
Third, you want tighten the screw where you moved the panel to so it stays there.
4. Upgrade to Thicker Wires to Lose Less Energy During Power Transfer.
With all the focus on solar panel efficiency, it’s easy to forget about the elements that actually TRANSPORT the watts from A to B.
As I touched on ealier, thermal inefficiency is always going to be a factor when it comes to solar energy…
…And whatever you can do to minize the amount of heat waste should be a top priority on your bucket list.
Here’s the deal:
Thin wires simply cannot store as much energy as thicker wires.
This means less usable electricity because more gets wasted in the form of heat.
The first thing you need to determine is where your wires are.
There’s typically two main places where cords are used:
- From the panel to the inverter.
- From your inverter to your building’s electrical panel.
Next, replace those thin wires with thicker wires.
5. Install a Programmable Thermostat to Schedule Efficient Energy Use.
According to a study by Nest Labs, you can save 10-12% on heating and 15% on cooling with a programmable thermostat.
Everything I’ve touched on so far has been about reducing waste.
But here’s the thing:
Reducing use is equally, if not more important than solving inefficiency problems.
And that’s where thermostats come in:
They help you SCHEDULE efficient energy use, so you’re not needlessly wasting energy with things like heating your home when you’re not around.
Depending on how big your living space is and how long you plan to live there, this more practical for some than others…
But with an retail price of about $250 on average, the extra savings will surely pay for itself in a year or two regardless.
You’ll see how to QUICKLY program a thermostat + I’ll give you a funny story from my own life about how much benefit it had in step #12…
…But for now, follow these two steps:
First, search for economical thermostat on Google.
The internet is nice because you can compare prices and read reviews on different options.
Here are a few thermostat types to think about:
- Wifi thermostats – Allow you to control temperature from your laptop or smartphone. Programmable.
- Touchscreen thermostats – These are nice because the interface is usually pretty simple and easy to understand so programming is easy.
- Basic Programmable – A programmable thermostat with no fancy features other than the ability to create a pre-set temperature program.
- Non-Programmable – All themperature changes must be manually regulated (not recommended, but better than nothing).
Second, decide you you want to DIY or hire someone to install it for you.
How to put this…
If you’re not handy with electrical, don’t risk electrocuting yourself.
I’d feel really bad if I caused you that much pain! 🙂
If you are, you can check out this do it yourself guide from Lowe’s that walks you through thermostat installation step-by-step.
6. Set Up Perimeter Defenses to Prevent Nature’s Elements from Tampering with your Set Up.
I live on a lake and nothing makes me more angry than when duckies stroll through by the hundreds and relieve themselves on my grass.
So I put up fishline to prevent them from leaving gifts in my yard.
Why am I telling you this?
Because Mother nature’s negative externalities aren’t limited to my lawn – it can intefere with your solar panels as well.
- Rodents can chew on your wires.
- Leaves and pollen can land on your panels (and stay there).
- Animals can scratch and bump into your panels.
To be clear: Not all of these tips will be 100% applicable if your solar panels are mounted on your roof.
Here’s a few things you can do:
#1) put some protective covering on your cords:
I’m not sure why, but some animals LOVE to chew on cords.
To keep your cords protected from them, you’ll want to encase them.
Here are a few materials you can use:
- Buy clear vinyl tubing, cut a slit down the middle, and wrap cord inside.
- Use spiral wrap to sheathe cords
- Paint on at least two layers of liquid electrical tape
It will also be helpful if you make the cords less accessible. Try to attach them to the ceiling if possible.
#2) put up a fence around your panel.
You don’t need too strong of a fence, just something to discourage something from entering.
Some lathes and burlap fence should work fine; I’ve been able to get 24 feet of burlap for around $10 before.
From there, just plant those lathes in the ground and wrap the fencing around them.
7. Tilt Your Panel to At Least 15° to Make Your Panel Self-Cleaning.
I’m not going to lie to you:
If you buy quality solar panels, the solar panel itself shouldn’t need all that much maintenance.
They are made from durable materials and tend to clean themselves from precipitation as long as they at the right tilt.
However, there are cases where solar panels are not installed at enough of an angle which means it won’t clean itself because precipitation won’t slide off as easily.
Such is an issue if it snows frequently where you live… and if snow doesn’t melt then slide off your panel automatically, you’re missing out on a lot of sunlight.
The first thing you need to do is determine what angle your panel is at, because resetting your panel can definitely be a pain.
If it is over 15°, no worries.
If it is not, either re-set your mount yourself or give your local installer a call.
If you have an adjustable mount, you should be able to handle things yourself relatively easily.
8. Wash Your Panel 2-3 Times Per Year to Destroy Contaminants that Block Sunlight.
In addition to what I said in above (step #7), everything needs a good manual cleaning from time to time.
Because whether it’s:
- Bird poop
you’re going to lose SOME efficiency if you let grime build up, like these poor guys:
Despite the fact that natural precipitation will take care of MOST buildup, it’s still worth cleaning your panels manually now and then.
You don’t need to beat it to death, but a hose and some soapy water even a couple times a year can go a long way.
Here’s how you can gently clean your solar panels:
Step 1: fill up a container with 1-2 gallons worth of warm solution.
Always use hot water then add your solution.
I’ve only ever used Simple Green as an outdoor cleaning agent because it works pretty well and is also environmentally friendly.
Step 2: Rub down your panel with medium pressure to remove the contaminants
Start first with the washcloth because it’s soft and won’t cause any extenal damage to your panel regardless of how fragile the glass might be.
Use circular motion when washing.
This should get everything.
If there’s any grime left, use the brush to spot wash those areas.
Step 3: Hose it down
All you need to do here is remove all the soapy water so that nothing dries out and creates a film.
Once you’re confident you washed off all the soap, you’re good to go. The panel should dry itself.
Pro Tip: If your panel is on a roof and you can’t reach it, just hose it down. It’s not worth going up there and hurting yourself. You won’t get as thorough of a clean, but hosing it down is DEFINTELY better than nothing.
9. Experiment with Perovskite On Top of Your Panel to More Effectively Capture Light.
This one is for you real innovators out there.
And check out the innovation potential of this technology (Courtesy of Kurt J. Lesker) :
GSES also states that perovskite has the potential to be much less expensive than conventional silicon cells:
The theory is this:
You can use perovskite solar cells IN ADDITION TO traditional solicon solar cells to absorb additional wavelengeths of the sun’s light.
In other words, you can use perovskite in tandem with solicon solar cells:
The PANELS themselves are not yet available to mass market, but experts are hoping they can achieve mass production by 2019.
There’s no telling how much this technology could revolutionize the solar panel industry in coming years…
…but you can do for now is play around with this new technology as long as you are comfortable with chemical engineering.
You might even make some innovations yourself 😉
It still has a long way to go before it has reached its maximum potential as it is still a young topic of academic research – but there are a few companies that have helped bridge the gap.
A word of warning: Perovskite is not as durable as silicon and can deteriorate in high temperatures and water. They degrade quickly and usually contain lead.
First you need to gather the necessary materials.
This is relatively new technology so there’s not a huge presence for it in the market.
Therefore, you need to buy testing kits online.
You first need to determine the length and width of your panel to determine its surface area.
Once you know its surface area, you can determine how much perovskite you need.
Solaronix and Sigma-Aldrich are the only companies I know of that sells all the perovskite materials you need to apply a layer to your panel in today’s market.
Next, you will want to review this guide to determine your experience level and follow those directions.
You can also watch this video if you are looking for more advanced instructions:
10. Send More Sunlight to Your Panel With a Concentrator.
According to a test done by Paul from Geo Dome, using ONE concentrator increased his panel’s output by 75%.
What you’re doing here is this:
In addition to the sunlight that your panel is already attracting from its current tilt…
…you’re directing sunlight from ANOTHER angle towards your panel.
Think giant magnifying glass but you’re generating solar power from two different angles.
Pro tip: The more concentrators you add, the hotter your panel will get. And the hotter your panel gets, the less efficient it becomes. You probably only want to use one concentrator at once to be safe and not jeopardize panel life.
Here are a couple ways to put concentrators into action:
1. Place a sheet of polished metal under your panel.
You can use either a mirror or polished metal as your concentrator.
(both work equally well, but mirrors break much easier).
This panel should be at least two times the size of your panel for angular reasons.
It needs to be in front of the panel and the angles need to line up.
I’ve never tried it, but apparently you can also use water as a low-heat way to reflect sunlight to your panel.
2. Set up a concentrator above the panel to the right or left.
This option is probably more practical for roof mounted panels that can’t accomidate concentrators from below.
Something you have to keep in mind is that as the sun moves West, the concentrator can cast a shadow on your panels.
Therefore, you want to test how well the above-set up is working to determine how more energy it generates vs. prevents.
Also, try to put your concentrator in a spot that won’t cast too much of a shadow.
11. Glaze Your Solar Cells with Protectant to Reduce Reflection and Increase Transmissivity.
Surface Coating on solar panels is great for two reasons:
- It adds an extra layer of protection to your panel
- It actually increases the amount of solar absorption that your panel can receive.
In fact, according to the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the water-repellant finish it developed increased light-to-electricity conversion efficiency by 2-6%.
Watch this video to learn how to get started:
12. Maintain your Inverter to Optimize Electricity Transfer (4 Tips).
Inverters are ESSENTIAL to solar panel efficiency.
They are the tools that take the energy absorbed by your solar panel and convert it into a useable form of electricity:
DC current –> AC Current.
I could probably dedicate a whole post to inverter maintenance, but here is a short a sweet version of the most important areas to cover:
#1) Make sure your inverter is well ventilatated:
Inverter batteries can get pretty toasty after a long day’s work. Make sure it has plenty of room to breath and release heat.
#2) Clean the battery and eliminate dust:
You want to make sure the sides and surface of the battery is clean and dust free. Also make sure the vents around the battery are clean. A cloth will get the job done.
#3) Keep the battery terminals in good shape:
Sometimes battery terminals can get corroded or rusty, which is bad for performance. Best thing to do here is use hot water + baking soda to clean it then apply petroleum jelly to prevent future corrosion.
#4) Replace when necessary
No inverter lasts forever, which is why you’ll want to replace yours every 10 years or so.
13. Program & Monitor Your Thermostat to Run on an Energy-Efficient Schedule.
So you installed a programmable thermostat (Step #5)…
…Now you need to calibrate a program and monitor your energy usage like a PRO.
But first: Here’s a story of this tip being used in action from my own life experience.
Back about 10 years ago when I was living with my parents, they did not have a programmable thermostat.
They have a sizable house in the middle of nowhere, so if they forget to turn the heat down a few degrees before bed, it would run all night and maybe cost double digits of extra energy PER NIGHT.
Then they got a programmable thermostat and configured the following settings during the winter:
- 68 degrees when home
- 58 degrees when not home (we had cats)
- 62 degrees when sleeping.
They applied similar technique with AC in the summer like clockwork.
Over $700 in savings on their energy bill the next year.
Bottom Line: Programming your thermostat is an effective (and easy) way to save money.
It’s also a super helpful analysis tool that helps you identify hidden inefficiencies.
Follow these steps to get started:
1. Determine what temperatures you’re comfortable with
The less energy you use the better, but also don’t sacrifice too much comfort in the sake of energy savings.
(After all, you are already generating clean energy with solar panels :))
I typically stay in the range of 66-76 degrees Fahrenheit during any season while I’m home, and drop the temperature significantly when I am away from home.
2. Program those settings into your Thermostat
This is the part where you need plug in the temperatures you’re comfortable with via air conditioning and heat.
I can’t give you step-by-step instructions because you’ll probably have a different type of thermostat than me, but you can find a helpful guide that generally covers the bases here.
14. Automatically Track the Sun’s Angle with a Solar Tracker.
If you want your panel to get maximum output, then it needs to be perpendicular to the sun at all times.
In fact, according to a study from Energy sage, the proper tilt can increase clean energy production anywhere from 9%-26%.
And that’s why solar trackers are awesome:They automatically align your panel with the angle of the sun, sometimes up to 40%!
But here’s the problem:
Sometimes solar panels are straight up too expensive for some people, so a cheaper alternative is building one yourself.
Here’s how it works…
Most solar trackers are built with three elements:
- A Sensor
- A Controller
- A Linear Actuators (2 are needed in order for the panel to move all directions).
The linear actuators are what push the panel up and down with accuracy, and work by converting rotational motion from a motor into linear motion:
But without some sort of instructions the actuators are useless.
And that’s where the sensor and controller come in:
The sensor basically recieves information about where the sun is throughout the day…
…then transmits that information to the controller which drives the actuator.
The video below does a good job at demonstrating how a solar panel works in action:
This is a great video for how to build a DIY solar tracker:
If you want to install a solar tracker yourself, Electro Schematics put together a great guide on how solar trackers work and how to install them.
15. Connect to the Utility Grid to Sell Your Leftover Energy for Profit.
Energy Matters put together a great diagram detailing how connecting to the grid works:
Step 1-3 is pretty intuitive, and if you already have solar panels you probably have those covered…
…It is step 4 and 5 that most people stop at because they just focus on powering their own home.
But here’s where solar power gets truly inspiring:
You can make as big of a difference with climate change as you want the more solar energy you contribute to the ultility grid.
You are not only in control of whether YOU consume clean energy, but whether your NEIGHBORS consume clean energy as well.
You might even save a few polar bears in the process 🙂
Here’s how to connect your current solar system to the utility grid:
#1) Select an Experienced Provider
Choosing the right electrical contractor is HUGE because they will be familiar with your local utility’s regulations and interconneciton requiements.
Just use one the following search strings in Google to find a good match:
“solar panel electrical contractor” + “YOUR CITY, YOUR STATE”
“solar panel installation” + “YOUR CITY, YOUR STATE”
This contractor should provide you with everything you need to run your system effectively, including:
- The correct type of inverter
- The Batteries for energy storage
- An electric meter that will connect to the utility grid (#4 in diagram)
#2) Sign an Interconnection Agreement with your Local Utility Company
While this agreement is strictly between you and your utility provider and you should read the fine print…
…You can still use the cousel of your electric solar provider and your home owner’s insurance provider to help you with the paper work.
You don’t need to worry too much, but I always think it’s better to be safe than sorry.
You’ll likely use a billing process called “Net Metering”, in which any energy you’re not immediately using is sent to the ultility grid.
When the grid is producing more energy than it needs, however, it will send that energy your way.
Now It’s Your Turn
Now it’s time for you to take action by puttting these powerful efficiency boosters into practice.